Friday, January 29, 2016

David Hartwell's Three Rules for Traveling Overseas

I'm back from three days traveling, up to Massachusetts and back, for David Hartwell's memorial service.

I am not going to write about the service. there was a good-sized crowd of mourners. The family was there. Speeches were made. Emotions were sincere.

Instead, I'm going to pass on what Geoffrey Hartwell said was his father's advice when he traveled overseas for the first time. It is, I believe, useful. So here it is:

1. Never stand when you can sit.

2. Never sit when you can lie down.

3. Eat a salad every day.

This is what we call Good Advice. If you take it, you'll be helping to keep a good man's memory alive.


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

And As Always...

I'm on the road again. 

This time, for a sad reason. David Hartwell's funeral will be held in Massachusetts on Thursday morning. So I'm driving up to New England, where Marianne and I will overnight with friends. Then, in the morning, we'll pay our last respects to a man I've known for almost forty years.

Funerals are not really about the person who died, but a service paid to the community of people who survive him or her. We show up to say: Yes, your grief is appropriate. We feel something very similar. You are not alone.

These are important things to say. If we did not say them, we would not be human.

At the same time, it must also be said: All humans die. To feel grief over the death of someone who lived a full three-quarters of a century is to say that said person led such an extraordinary life that for him to die pretty much when the actuarial tables said he would is tragic.

As indeed it was.

Good night, David. And flights of teen angels sing thee to thy rest.


Monday, January 25, 2016

The Toughest True Words You'll Ever Read on Writer's Block


Writer's block -- real blockage, I mean, not simply being stuck on a particular story or not having any idea of what to write next, but the inability to write anything worthwhile, no matter how much effort you put into it -- is one of the most terrifying things that can happen to a writer.

I know this because roughly thirty-five years ago, after making several sales and seeing my first two published stories appear on the Nebula ballot, I came down with a world-class case of it. Every day I sat down at my Selectric and typed until I had several pages that went nowhere, accomplished nothing, and had to thrown away. Day after day, it was the same story. Over and over and over again.

Fortunately, there are a lot of ways to relieve writer's block.

Unfortunately, most of them don't work.

I tried them all. I followed Raymond Chandler's advice and had a man with a gun walk into the room. "Holy cow, he's got a gun!" one of my characters cried. Another said something else. And several pages later, the plot had gone nowhere and the prose had accomplished nothing and every word of that day's work had to be thrown away. I tried a lot of other sure-fire tips as well. None of them worked.

Day after day. Month after month. Something in my subconscious did not want me to write and would not let me write. For nine months. During which, I also lost my job and got married.

That's terrifying.

There's a happy ending to this story. I finally found the cure. I kept writing, every day and as hard as I could, despite not getting any results until finally my subconscious got the message that preventing me from doing any productive writing was not going to get it out of sitting in front of the typewriter and typing for hours every day. So it gave up.

Here is the hard and simple truth: All those tricks may work for some writers at some times. None of them are reliable. The only thing that really works is to keep on writing. Even though you hate it. Even though every word you write is dreadful. Even though you loathe the sight of the trash you're creating. You have to keep on keeping on.

Even worse, though it worked for me, it is not guaranteed to work for everybody every time. Nothing is.

But if you don't keep on writing...

Above: I'm boxing up some of my duplicate publications to go into the attic. These are a small fraction of them.


Friday, January 22, 2016

Ten Best Tweet Fictions


About a month and a half ago, I started posting very short SF & fantasy stories on Twitter, one a day. I called this project Tweet Fictions.

On Sunday, I'll post my fiftieth Tweet Fiction. In my experience, there's not a lot of overlap between people who read my blog and those who follow me on Twitter. For which reason (and because Fridays are a good time for light material) (particularly just before a blizzard) (and why this abundance of parenthetical asides, anyway?), herewith are the ten best -- strictly in my own opinion, of course -- to date:

12/14/15: The good news is that the world is going to end tomorrow. You probably don’t want to hear the bad news.

12/22/15: Philip K. Dick just materialized and told me everything is as it seems. Should I be worried?

12/28/15: The best proof of mass amnesia is the fact that we call this planet Earth -- as if it were the original one, and we'd always lived here.

12/31/29: It took every penny in our budget to put astronauts in Pluto. Show me where in the contract it says we had to bring them back.

1/1/16: This year I resolve to smash the time machine before I can go back and kill my younger self for smashing my time machine.

1/2/16: Had vision of Judgment Day: God asked how much string I'd collected.

1/3/16: Now that machines run everything, humans can focus on creative endeavors. Online solitaire, mostly.

1/15/16:There are some things man was not meant to know. Or so the High Matriarch of Earth tells me.

1/17/16: Weather alert: Timestorm today. Your sequence out of may go actions.

and of course, yesterday’s:

This tweet contains all human knowledge plus fourteen words as of April 17, 2114.  

And the best response was . . .

On December 23 of last year, I tweeted:

The day after I said that women can't write hard SF, Nancy Kress showed up at my door with a neutron gun.

Nancy Kress responded that it would take more than one neutron gun to kill me.

Nancy is too kind. For an ordinary hard science fiction writer, it would take more than one. But Nancy Kress is no ordinary hard science fiction writer.


Thursday, January 21, 2016

Otters From Nowhere


Life goes on. Last night, I went to a reading by Lawrence Schoen from his new novel, Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard. During the questions and comments period somebody from his writers group mentioned that in an earlier draft, he had had "otters out of nowhere," which everyone insisted he remove. It was implied that there was no way those otters could be made to fit into a story. So what the heck. Right here, right now, before breakfast, I'm going to give it a whack:

Otters Out of Nowhere

It was the otters from nowhere that first let us know that reality was not what we thought it was. Followed by the massive clouds of orange balloons over the Arctic. The appearance of a giant statue of a croquet player across the river from the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. The morning everybody in Ireland woke up wearing (removable, thank goodness!) red clown noses.

A great deal of research later, we have determined that Somewhere there is a control room where reality is manipulated, or perhaps orchestrated is the better term. From it, Somebody or Something is able to adjust the parameters of our existence.

Further, responsibility for the control room periodically passes from one Entity to another, and the times reflect the personality of Whomever is in control. This is why historical eras differ so greatly from one another. This is why the era of Greek philosophy and literature is so unlike that of the Hundred Years War. This is why the inspiring figures of the American Revolution were followed by an era of scoundrels.

This is why yesterday Mount Rushmore turned to lime jello. Reality is currently being run by a practical joker. And not a very funny one. Just look at Its works!

Don't even get me started on Donald Trump.

Above: For Lawrence Schoen. Beware of elephants bearing knives.


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

David G. Hartwell: In Search of the Holy Grail


Photo by and Copyright © Andrew I. Porter

I was in Chicago a couple of years ago for Gene Wolfe's induction into the literary hall of fame there when the phone rang and David Hartwell said, "I'm sitting in Fred Pohl's kitchen with him, going through J. K. Klein's photos, looking for pictures of old time writers. Do you want to join us?"

You bet I did.

I think back to that brief call and I can hear him grinning. The joy in his voice was infectious. That was the key to David G. Hartwell: he loved science fiction, he loved work, he loved making worthwhile things happen. The photos were for an expanded version of The Way the Future Was, which I don't think Fred lived to finish. Even if he had, he would have gotten no credit for those hours spent going through literally thousands of black-and-white photos in search of the rarely seen, and he knew it. This is the core condition of an editor: to get credit for only a fraction of what you do. Those who cannot live with that fact quickly move on to some other line of work.

But, David being David, he had an ulterior motive as well. "I'm searching for the Holy Grail," he said. "I know it's in here somewhere..."

Now David Hartwell is no more.

There is some confusion as to whether he's technically dead yet. And it seems unclear whether bleeding in the brain caused him to fall down a flight of stairs or the fall caused the bleeding. But the doctors hold out no hope that he will ever regain consciousness. So my friend is gone.

Christ, I'll miss him. Every year at Readercon we used to meet in the bar while everybody else was at the Kirk Poland Memorial Bad Prose Competition and have a serious conversation about the art of science fiction. Talking about the current state and literary potential of our genre. David had no interest in the competition, hilarious though everybody said it was. "I've read enough bad prose in my life that I don't need to seek out any more," he told me.

Yeah, me too, David.

The list of things he's done -- just those I know about -- would go on forever. Here's an extremely abbreviated version: He was a book reviewer for Crawdaddy, edited The Little Magazine, co-founded The New York Review of Science Fiction and the NYRSF Readings series (both of which will continue after him), chaired the board of directors of the World Fantasy Convention and administered the Philip K. Dick Award. Mostly, he edited. He edited the Year's Best SF series, and a number of magisterial anthologies -- "bug-crushers" is the technical term -- on Hard SF, Sword & Sorcery, Twentieth Century and early Twenty-FIrst Century SF, Horror, and so on. He found and nurtured a many great writers. He edited Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun series. He was a book dealer, huckster, and collector. At various times, he filled pretty much every ecological niche in the publishing world.

He loved science fiction and he worked all his adult life in and for it.

And -- let it be said here -- he found the Holy Grail. Near the end of that long morning spent hunched over Fredrick Pohl's kitchen table, David Hartwell cried "Eureka!" and, luminously happy, held high the photograph he had been searching for. It was a photo of the young William Gibson at his very first science fiction convention, which he had convinced his mother to drive him to,. He was dressed as the Lizard King.

I don't know where that photo is now. You'll probably never get to see it. And that's the absolutely smallest reason that your world is the poorer for not containing David G. Hartwell anymore.

Above: David. Smiling. That's the way he should be remembered.


Monday, January 18, 2016

Blue Collar Batman


Don't talk to me about Batman. You didn't know him. I did. I used to help him work on the Batmobile weekends. Sometimes, when crime was slow, we'd sit on the stoop, drink a beer or two, and just shoot the breeze. He was an okay guy, Bruce was. Big Packers fan.

All that bull about him being rich? C'mon. When was the last time you ran into a billionaire volunteering in a soup kitchen, much less putting his life on the line to save regular people? Batman was blue collar to the bone. Lived in a third-floor walk-up near the El.  Worked on the docks when that was available. Took temp jobs when it wasn't.

The Batmobile wasn't like what you see in the movies, either. It was a '57 Chevy that he spray-painted a flat black. I helped him do that, a long time ago, before people used respirators. God knows what the stuff I inhaled has done to my lungs. It was a rush job because there was something big going down that night, and when Bruce put on his costume and jumped behind the wheel, we discovered we'd covered the headlights too. Later, we laughed about that, but it wasn't funny at the time. You shoulda heard us cussing as we scrapped off the paint.

Old Bruce died in '78. Lung cancer. He always said the cigarettes would get him in the end. It really came as a shock to those who knew him. We all thought he'd last forever.

Like I said, a real sweetheart. One time, when I was out of town and my mother's toilet overflowed, he came right over and fixed it for her. Wouldn't take a penny for it, though of course Mom offered. That's just the kind of guy he was.

His real name was Waynzowski, by the way. He was a Polack. But we never held that against him.


Friday, January 15, 2016

When Is A Martini Not A Martini?


Here at the American Martini Laboratory, we have long fought the good fight against all manner of faux Martinis. These are alcoholic concoctions which have taken on the sacred name of the World's Most Perfect Cocktail, despite containing:

Pink Stuff
Gummy Worms
Flavored Schnapps
Any Liquor at all other than Gin, Dry Vermouth, or (but only on occasion) orange bitters
Any garnish at all other than olives or a thin twist of lemon rind

Otherwise worldly philosophers have suggested that Martinis come in two varieties -- gin and vodka. This heresy has been rejected by the AML's deeper drinkers, who have up to now declared that a Martini made with vodka is not only tasteless but a different drink altogether -- a "Vodkatini."

Well... we were wrong.

New research reveals that the so-called "vodka martini" was invented sometime around 1950 and was originally called a "Kangaroo."

A Kangaroo. Could there be a more fitting humiliation for a drink that dared aspire to the name of the King of Cocktails? Just as there can be only one T. rex, and one Elvis... there can be but one Martini.

You can read about the history of the Great Pretender here.


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

A Dragon's Horde of eBooks


The other day I received an email from a fan reading:

Will you please turn iron dragons daughter into an ebook?  I have troubles finding a lot of the good books in print but most times they are available in digital format. This book is an exception and hasn't been made into an ebook. It would be more accessible. Please.

This is a request I’ve gotten a lot over the years, sometimes for other books but most often for this one in particular.

So you can imagine how happy I am to be able to announce that The Iron Dragon's Daughter is now under contract with Open Road Media to be published in ebook format. In fact, it’s one of a number of books they’re going to be publishing. Those books are:

The Iron Dragon's Daughter Bones of the Earth Tales of Old Earth Vacuum Flowers In the Drift Jack Faust

To everybody who has ever asked: Thank you for caring. I’m sorry it took so long.

The good people at Open Road Media have some very cool plans for my books. I’ll let you know as they materialize.

Above: This beautiful interpretation of my novel is by Geoff Taylor. You can find his website (with many other very cool images) here.


Monday, January 11, 2016

And As Always...


I'm on the road again. This time, I'm off to the Pennsylvania Farm Show.  Lesser states have state fairs. Pffft! We have a Farm Show. It has its own permanent buildings dedicated to its use and its own exit from the interstate.

Once a year, Pennsylvania's farmer's get to strut their stuff.  Once a year, they're recognized as the uber-cool dudes and dudettes they are. And once a year, I go to admire them.

So that's where I am.  Meanwhile, here's the link for the Farm Show Duck Cam. Are you addicted to cute photos of kittens?  They're just the gateway drug. Move on up to ducklings on a tiny water slide.

You can find the duck cam here. (It's live, so most of the time there are no ducklings. And when the Farm Show isn't open, they turn it off. So patience may be required.)

And . . .

I've got a bit of news for you. Wednesday, I think, if I can find the details.  Stay tuned.

Above: Yes! There will be a butter sculpture. Stay tuned!


Friday, January 8, 2016

The Godless Atheist Christmas Card of the Year!


Every year at this time, the Not At All Nepotistic Blue Ribbon Panel of Family meets to examine all the Christmas cards received this season and choose the single one most completely lacking in religious feeling at the Godless Atheist Christmas Card of the Year.

And what a strange year it was! One by one, the giants fell. John and Judith Clute, always front-runners (and always highly anticipated since their cared is a work of art by Judith herself)sent a card featuring a cathedral gargoyle and were immediately disqualified for Christian imagery. The inimitable Jason Van Hollander, whose holiday greetings inevitably bring with them a sulfuric whiff of damnation, was immediately thrown out of the running because the card consisted of pictures by his wife Terry, which were undeniably heart-warming. Even my sister Mary, who is (inexplicably, since she is neither godless nor atheistic) always in the vanguard of this competition was deemed out of the running because her card bearing a cartoon of an ice-skating giraffe had a cartoon of a sprig of mistletoe on the back! Druidic imagery apparently being close enough to Christian for the Not At All Nepotistic Blue Ribbon Panel of Family.

But in the event, the judging was fierce and furious. Darrell Schweitzer's and Mattie Brahan's Star Wars cartoon card was ruled religious because the beloved Disney trademark characters were caroling. Similarly, my sister Barbie's Thing 1 and Thing 2 card was kicked out of the running because "It's Dr. Seuss!" (I did not see that as being inherently religious but was shouted down.) Our friend Charlotte's card was taken out of the running because it had kittens in Santa outfits. And so it went.

Finally, it came down to the four cards up above, each one of them breathtakingly qualified to win. Mike and Beth Zipser's image of dead trees in winter was not only beautiful but conveyed a bleakness and lack of hope perfectly antithetical to the season. Novelist Elizabeth Willey's original collage of a seagoing and fish-eating Cretaceous carnivore calmly watched over by kimono-clad hummingbirds managed to not only be an engaging word of art but also to have nothing whatsoever to do with the holiday season. Unless there's some kind of Japanese pun hidden in there, which I would not put past her. Finally, photographer Beth Gwinn's vamp vampire is so inherently anti-Christmas that even the fact that she's wearing a Santa hat didn't disqualify her.

But in the end, there can only be one winner.  And that one is... drum roll, please... bookman Henry Wessells for his spare, even minimalistic card with a black and white photo (by M. J. Duffy) of the view from Allen Ginsberg's apartment in 1988. Very briefly, it was argued that since Ginsberg was a Buddhist some slight whiff of religious feeling might yet cling to the image. But that was mere sophistry and quite rightly shouted down by the more rational members of the Blue Ribbon Not At All Nepotistic Panel of Family.

Congratulations, Henry!

You can find Henry Wessells' engaging book blog, The Endless Bookshelf here.

And a foodnote to literary history...

Personally, I felt that my old college chum Dan's card should have been in the running. It showed a reindeer humping a reindeer that was humping another reindeer. Breathtaking. However, it mysteriously disappeared shortly after its arrival in our house.  I know who I suspect.


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Lafferty! Lafferty! Lafferty!


Feast of Laughter has to be one of the most extraordinary fannish feats of recent years. It's a full-length book/zine containing new and reprint essays, appreciations, letters, whatevers pertaining to the man who was easily the most original science fiction writer of the Twentieth Century -- Raphael Aloysius Lafferty.

R. A. Lafferty, "Ray" as his friends called him, was, during his lifetime, recognized as one of the giants of the field. Now, alas, he's close to forgotten.

But not quite! Some of the great man's friends and admirers have been working hard to reignite Lafferty's reputation. This volume of Feast of Laughter is the third collection of Laffertiana and it is a must for all serious Lafferty fans.

Here's the table of contents:

Introduction by Kevin Cheek
Introduction to the Boomer Flats Gazette by Dan Knight

World Abounding - New Essays
Ray by Rick Norwood
One Cannot Give Too Many Instances by John Ellison
Eudaimonism in R.A. Lafferty’s Aurelia by Gregorio Montejo
Outside the Cathedral by Kevin Cheek
Copyright, Copyleft, Copyfuture by Rich Persaud
Lafferty and His Monsters - Part 1: The Early Works by Daniel Otto Jack Petersen
The Annals and Ace; or, The Textual History of an Historical Text by Andrew Ferguson

All But the Words - Translating Lafferty
From Russia with Laff: A Very Brief Report on R.A. Lafferty’s Russian Translations by Niyaz N. Abdullin

Bright Coins in a Never-Ending Stream - Reprinted Essays R. A. Lafferty: Effective Arcanum by Don Webb
A Sound of Lafferty by Roman Orszanski
R. A. Lafferty: The Function of Archetype in the Western Mystical Tradition by Dena C. Bain Taylor
Thus We Frustrate Charlemagne by Paul Kincaid
R.A. Lafferty, Sir Thomas More, and the Problems of Utopia by Robert Bee
Introduction to R.A. Lafferty’s The Fall of Rome by Darrell Schweitzer
Introduction to The Devil Is Dead by Charles Platt

In Deepest Pen and Ink - Laffertian Illustration
Hound Dog’s Ear illustrations by Lissanne Lake

Through Other Eyes - Reviews
The Man Who Made Models - Review by Stephen Case
Past Master by R. A. Lafferty by MPorcius
Utopia by Thomas More by MPorcius
R.A. Lafferty — Apocalypses (1977) by Gene McHugh

Club Mentiros - Works inspired by Lafferty
Three Poems by Bill Rogers
The Lost Children of Boo-Hay World by Daniel Otto Jack Petersen
Who Was That? by Martin Heavisides
People are Strange by Christopher Blake
Justice by Dan Knight
An Afterword to “Justice” by Gregorio Montejo
Bone Girl by J Simon
Barstone by Stephen R. Case

Correspondence with the Cranky Old Man from Tulsa
Letter from Alan Dean Foster to R. A. Lafferty
R. A. Lafferty’s Reply to Alan Dean Foster
Letter from Alan Dean Foster Nominating Lafferty for the Arrell Gibson Life Achievement Award

Guesting Time - Interview
An Interview with Harlan Ellison by Andrew Mass

The Man With the Aura - Lafferty's own words!
Don’t Just Read Lafferty, Be Lafferty! by Anthony Ryan Rhodes
Tell It Funny, Og by R. A. Lafferty
Configuration Of The North Shore by R. A. Lafferty

... and now you know whether you need it or not.

If you do, you can buy it from Amazon here.

Or you can go to the Feast of Laughter website where, with astonishing generosity, a free pdf file of the entire book/zine is available for download here.

And speaking of Ray Lafferty...

The Feast of Laughter folks (the title applied to their website before it became attached to their publication) are throwing the world's first R. A. Lafferty convention on June 4th in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. Laffcon 1 is a one-day event because they're making this up as they go along and don't know how much demand there will be for such a thing. It may get bigger with time or it may stay the same size. We'll see.

I think it'll be a hoot. If you're in the area, why not attend?

That's the poster for Laffcon 1 up above. You'll note that I'm a guest of honor. I throw that out casually, as if it were no big deal for me. But of course it is.

And speaking of Harlan Ellison...

You may have noticed that Centipede Press has been issuing Lafferty's collected short fiction in beautiful, not-cheap hardcover editions. I wrote the introduction to volume 1, The Man Who Made Models and Harlan Ellison wrote the into to volume 2, The Man With the Aura. I particularly admired the exchange at the end, where the two writers offer their assessments of each other. If you haven't read it but will, I'm not going to spoil the essay by quoting it. But if you have read it, then you really must read the interview herein with Harlan.

'Nuff said.


Monday, January 4, 2016

The Mummers Are Dead -- Long Live the Mummers!


Roughly thirty years ago, William Gibson observed that William S. Burroughs was the first writer to pick up science fiction as if it were a found object -- a rusty eggbeater was the example he used -- and incorporate it into his art.

Saturday, it was my turn to be a rusty eggbeater.

Artists Leah Mackin and Alex Lukas put on an event at Space 1026, here in Philadelphia, titled The Mummers Are Dead Long Live the Mummers. It was...

It was...

Well, it's a little hard to say what it was, because I'd never seen anything quite like it. It was a little like a reading. it was a little like performance art, it was a little like a happening. It was... Well, let me start by setting the scene, and then I'll describe the event.

Space 1026 is your quintessential artist coop workspace. Offices, equipment, and graffiti in the back, an open space for doing things in the front. A small crowd, to judge by the number of chairs exactly the number expected, showed up. Everybody kept their coats on because such spaces are only rarely heated. Interestingly enough, two of the comic clubs used the front space to make their costumes in, and there was still a certain amount of Mummer detritus strewn about. A sign by the door to the rear read: NO GLITTER PAST THIS POINT. Because, of course, there was a great deal of glitter strewn everywhere.

Before the reading, there was a showing of "Who's Having Fun," a 1980 documentary on the Mummers. Then Lukas and Macklin took turns reading quotations from newsspaper articles, contemporary blog entries, and even a certain "campy science fiction novel" -- my own In the Drift, in which Mummers rule Philadelphia. Taken as a whole, they formed a thoughtful essay on the evolution of the Mummers over the past half-century and the challenges (lack of money and lingering traces of racism, mostly) still facing them.

As an essay, it was coherent and convincing. But, taken as a whole, it was more than just an essay or a lecture. The combination of aural collage and its creators' refusal to inject their own words into the text made it something else. I guess I'd have to call it research art.

Whatever it was, it seemed to me a pretty complete success.

Afterward, Marianne and I left for a friend's party in Delaware. We talked about the event all the way from Philadelphia.

You can see the Mummers documentary on YouTube here.

And you can find Space 1026's website here.

Above: My shoe. Glitter. From the floor. Photo by M. C. Porter.